The elusive idea of home

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Moss hangs like dewy beards…

Having grown up in the Pacific Northwest United States until the age of 22, the temperate coastal rainforests of British Columbia are deeply familiar to me. Towering fir trees sway in the the breeze, their canopy shading the spongy, humus-rich earth below. Crumbling deadfalls provide anchor for opportunistic hemlocks, moss hangs like dewy beards from their branches, and ferns blanket the forest floor beneath. Crows chatter from the treetops, audible but usually invisible, and frogs chirp from the many sodden ponds and streams. The interminably grey skies release an impressively continuous supply of precipitation, which somehow the earth absorbs. But the smell stirs me most: the combined rich, earthy scents of decomposing organic material, cedar bark, cold rain, fir needles, and fungus. Something about that smell fills me with some sort of concurrent joy and heartbreaking loss that I can’t even identify, and yet gives rise to a lump in my throat even as I smile. It’s confusing.

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The damp woods of Pacific Spirit Regional Park in Vancouver, BC.

One might think that this bittersweet stirring is the distant draw of home—a place to which I have an abiding and meaningful connection. And yet, I cannot help but feel the exact opposite. I do not feel at home here, just as I never felt at home during our three years living in Colorado. Instead I feel a vague sense of unease; I am strangely unsettled, antsy, disconnected, yearning somehow.

But let me back up for a minute. I suppose I should mention that we moved to Canada. Yep. Canada. Many people joke after discouraging elections that they are going to move to Canada, but we really did that. Without getting too political here, we simply decided the United States was a difficult place for us to be in this cultural moment; divisions run too deep, there is too much anger, too much violence, too much shouting and not enough listening. There are many people suffering and many others who are uncaring. People have become (were always?) hard, tense, suspicious of one another and unnecessarily confrontational. I guess America just isn’t feeling very much like home these days. Canada is far from perfect, but we at least have a few years of psychological breathing room to reassess our life choices. Canadian society where we live is, for the most part, gentle, compassionate, and peaceful. I am finishing my graduate studies at the University of British Columbia (MFA), and my partner is continuing his job by telecommuting. Just like that: next chapter. Continue reading

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Hearts and Bones: a leisurely meander along the Sangre de Cristos

20160518_173259_resizedOh, sweet desert rain. That smell of water evaporating off of sagebrush is intoxicating. They say that scent can evoke deeply ingrained emotional memories and, standing at the rim of the Rio Grande Gorge, the sweet mist swirls around me in the stillness and silence, conjuring what I can only describe as love. I know this response is nostalgic; some of the best times of my life have been spent in the high deserts of this country with the people I love most in this world. Central Oregon, Eastern Utah, Northern New Mexico… desert rain on sagebrush brings it all back.

Rio Grande Gorge
Rio Grande Gorge

Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, like many New Mexico destinations, is a hidden gem. The Rio Grande, here still wild and relatively unrestricted, cuts a deep gorge through basalt and the desert plateau, plunging almost a thousand feet below the rim. The Red River joins its flow in this gorge, creating a peninsula-like mesa above. We were fortunate to have the place to ourselves this week, with no other campers in the entire campground, and only one group of hikers and llamas on the Arsenic Springs trail for a couple hours. Other than that, our two days in the monument were still and silent, with dramatic storm clouds racing across an expansive sky.

Between intermittent thunderstorms, we hiked down into the gorge and to the Rio itself. The Rio Grande holds some sort of sacred place in my heart that I cannot describe; plunging my hands into her milky chocolate-colored spring flow felt like a pilgrimage. I pressed the red clay beneath my feet, closed my eyes as the sun came out, and listened to the lonely calls of ravens and desert songbirds. And there was that smell again. Just like that, I was home.

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Sacred places: Utah’s canyon country

IMG_20131130_105913Every one of us has a sacred place somewhere. I believe there is a physical place on this earth that occupies an unsullied space in each of our lives, where we retreat when we are in need of respite. This is not a “happy place” per se; it is instead a powerful place, forcing us into a state of retrospection, introspection, and an openness of spirit.

For me, that place is the canyon country of southeastern Utah.

There is something about the mesas, towers, and gaping expanses of this place that speaks to me, draws me in and holds me willing captive. We go there on the pretense of climbing, but what I feel is far more than the cold sandstone against my skin, the hollow breeze whispering in my ear, or the echoing cries of coyotes in the night wind.

My memories of this place stack on top of one another in a multifaceted tapestry of joy, sadness, triumph, pain, curiosity, fear and healing. There is a rawness here that envelops me, leaves me exposed to both memory and discovery. This place has its own voice, and it calls to me from open country. Continue reading

Good things come in threes

Here she is - our new home starting in 2014!
Here she is – our new home starting in 2014!

Sometimes things just fall into place without much effort. Not always, but sometimes.

It might sound cheesy or a little too new-age hippie, but I do believe we can manifest good things in our lives. My brief 30 years of experience on this planet has demonstrated that when we approach the world with kindness, positivity and gratitude, we are blessed with abundance. Granted, our definition of abundance and our expectations play a large role in that. If I expected to be a millionaire by now, I would be sorely disappointed and would not feel at all abundant. Fortunately, millionaire status is not my goal.

I’m not saying that bad things don’t happen to good people. I’ve had my share of bad luck for sure, and I know some very good people who have had some very bad things happen to them. But for myself, I find the negative events to be less memorable and less impactful than the good ones. And when I look at those good people around me who have had some serious bad luck, they come away from those things stronger, and good things inevitably come back around to them. They do not wallow in their misfortune, and their kindness, positivity and gratitude remain intact. That is the strength of the human spirit. 

All of this is to say that good fortune has come our way again. While I’m not surprised, I am very grateful. Continue reading

Now is the time: overland plans for 2014

The monastery in Arequipa, Peru.
The monastery in Arequipa, Peru.

It’s amazing sometimes how quickly plans can change. A month ago I was planning to attend graduate school next fall after taking 7-8 months to drive around North America with our trailer. I was excited to graduate this December, and thankful to have a period of flexibility before starting my MFA program.

But, thanks to university bureaucracy, I found out recently that I will not be graduating in December, and will instead be tethered to New Mexico until May. Needless to say, this discovery was more than a little irritating. In fact, it gave rise to a full-blown Hate Train, which then gave rise again to The Conundrum (see previous post). This, in turn, inspired our new and more awesome plan.

And we couldn’t be more excited about this unexpected change.

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Home in the land of the homeless: Pacific Northwest

Then we’re home
Finally home
Home in the land of the homeless
Finally home

-Paul Simon, “Hurricane Eye”

Misty woods in Washington
Misty woods in Washington

I have always had a restless spirit. When I am grounded, I dream of taking flight. When I am flying, I look for solid ground.

It’s not that I am dissatisfied with where I am at. Not at all. It’s just that there is some ineffable force pushing me constantly onward, almost as if I am a fish and if I stop moving I will no longer be able to breathe. The specter of stagnation forever gnashing at my heels, spurring me to seek new surrounds.

Like I said: restless spirit.

All of this restlessness leaves me also with a perpetual sense of homelessness. I live in a dichotomous limbo between craving a sense of home and being compelled to continually refresh my surroundings. In short, I never feel truly rooted anywhere when I am always preparing to leave. And indeed it seems I am always either coming or going, returning or departing. I often come back to a place which harbors fond memories, strong memories (like Maine or Oregon), and my experience is an unsettling mixture of nostalgia and renewal. Like meeting up with an old friend who is now a stranger.

My summer travels brought this fact into sharp relief: none of us can ever go home. Not really.

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Solitude in wild places: Trinity Alps

The mountains are calling and I must go.

– John Muir

A quiet trail through the woods, Trinity Alps.
A quiet trail through the woods, Trinity Alps.

There is something about the high country that calls to me, pulling me from the road or the city or the coast, and into the jagged peaks and brooding valleys of the Rockies, the Sangre de Cristos, the Sierras or the Cascades. This time it was the Trinity Alps Wilderness in northern California calling to me.

One of the magazines I contribute to was in need of some photos from this area, which provided a convenient excuse for a hike. After several days spent socializing in San Francisco and Chico, I was well ready to escape to the woods with my dog. Although I am exceptionally extroverted, I also require a good amount of alone time to maintain my equanimity. I need solitude to escape the distractions of our modern lives, to quiet my mind and remember those things that are really important. Despite an unwavering attachment to certain people and my deep, meaningful and fulfilling connections to those I love, my own company is that which I thrive most on. Reconciling these two opposing forces is a continual balancing act. Hence, the solo road trips and the solitary walks in the woods. Continue reading